Eagles search for dual meet, IBT state mat success

NIGHT, NIGHT – Springstead’s Charlie Roche, one of the Eagles’ seven state qualifiers in 2017 is one of the six returning state qualifiers, applies the final touches to a pin against Andrew Hoffman of Tampa-Berkeley Prep. .Photo by JOE DiCRISTOFALO
Springstead senior Tommy Barker, shown here as an Ippolito champion in Brandon, went 56-6 last winter. Photo by JOE DiCRISTOFALO
Hernando senior Josh Hulse vs. Brandon Moreau of Cardinal Gibbons in the Class 1A State Championship Tourney at Osceola County. Photo by JOE DiCRISTOFALO
Vinny D’Alessandro vs Conner Brown of Tampa-Berkeley Prep. D’Alessandro transferred to Centra and should help reverse the Bears’ fortunes.Photo by JOE DiCRISTOFALO
WRESTLING

Behind nine returning

lettermen and six state

qualifiers, SHS eyes gold

By TONY CASTRO

HernandoSport.com

In Year 46 of Hernando County wrestling – the county’s most successful sport – the circuit’s five teams will be chasing a new angle: a pair of state championships.

Besides the year-end 54th annual FHSAA IBT (individually bracketed tournament) State Finals in Osceola County, the state’s initial dual meet State Final will take place on Jan. 19-20 also in Kissimmee.

Here’s a peek at each local program.

SHS: Six returning state qualifiers

Last winter in Season 37, F.W. Springstead’s venerable mentor Robert “Bob” Levija left his calling card.

Bob Levija

Levija, a Florida Wrestling Hall of Famer, returned for a cameo appearance from his retirement when SHS struggled to find a replacement for Mike LaRocca.

In his 23rd campaign, Levija helped restore order to the program he originally built from scratch behind an 18-4 dual meet slate. In the process, he extended his county record in tournament wins with two to 69.

Moreover, Levija guided the Eagles to its county-leading 30th district championship, pushed all 14 members of the squad to regionals (another county record), placed third in the rugged Class 2A-II “Region of Doom” in Brandon and coached up senior Richie Rivera to the Class 2A state title at 113 pounds.

Richie Rivera

Rivera became Levija’s 10th state champion. Rivera also served as Springstead’s county-best 30th state champion.

At season’s end, Levija’s crew pushed seven state qualifiers to Kissimmee.

For his efforts, Levija was voted Coach of the Year by his peers.

Within two months after states, SHS rehired LaRocca, who guided Nature Coast Technical last winter, to pace the sidelines.

While the other county programs are en flux, SHS returns a county-leading 11 lettermen including: seniors Tommy McCane, Tanner Kublick, Tommy Barker, Charlie Roche, Chase Landgraff, Trenton Shenefield; juniors Kris Ortiz, Chris Morales, James Spencer and Christian Reynolds and sophomore Jackson Barker.

Tommy Barker

Tommy Barker, who competed for the Eagles as a freshman and sophomore, returned to the Spring Hill program after competing with Class 3A Tampa-Freedom.

Ortiz was part-time starter at 106 pounds. Minus Ortiz, SHS lines up with nine returning starters from last winter’s 2A-5 district championship squad plus Tommy Barker.

Tommy McCane

The backbone of the team is its county-leading six returning state qualifiers: McCane (37-12), Morales (35-9, 24 pins), Tommy Barker (56-6 in Hillsborough County), Roche (33-10), Landgraff (37-16, team-best 25 pins) and Shenefield (32-10).

LaRocca took a page from the Eric Swensen/Sal Basile era with a schedule similar to the “Bataan Death March”.

LaRocca, who guided SHS to a 15-4 slate in 2015-16, has erected a gauntlet for the Eagles to push through including stops at Kiwanis Invitational at Hernando High, The Knockout VI at Kissimmee, Chase Life at Palmetto Ridge, a return to the Flagler Palm Coast Rotary and Clay Rotary Tournaments, and a first-ever visit to John Reich Memorial at Jupiter High.

Now, add the District, Regional and State Dual Tournaments along with Milton Duals at St. Cloud and Springstead’s own Corey Hill Invitational and you’ve got a doozy of a schedule.

Mike LaRocca

Looking over his talented flock, “I see a lot promise, but I also see a lot of bad habits that need to be put to rest,” described LaRocca, one of Eagles’ county-leading 207 state qualifiers from 1998. “To me, this group has done nothing. We didn’t finish in the Top 10 last year. That’s been a given with this program for years.

“… We’ve got a lot of talent, but they’ve also got to push themselves. No one’s gonna gives us an inch,” stressed LaRocca. “In fact, we normally get everybody’s best shot.”

Tanner Kublick

On what LaRocca likes the most as the curtains go up next week at the 36th Kiwanis Invite at HHS, “Tanner (Kublick) is attempting to get into Annapolis. That says a lot about the type of student/athlete he is. The kid will go through a wall and never complain.

“Tanner and Chris (Morales) have put in a lot of life in the offseason. I wouldn’t be surprised in the least to see them in the state finals,” noted LaRocca. “Since Tommy Barker returned he’s really matured. He’s a changed kid. He’s a lot bigger, too.

Line-up wise, LaRocca thinks his two biggest grapplers, 220-pounder Reynolds and heavyweight Spence, have grown with a season of varsity experience but “could be better in Year 2.”

Look for sophomore Luis Perez to start the season at 132 while 160 and 170 are up for grabs.

Perez will surprise some people, LaRocca said, while attempting to solve the three gaps in the starting lineup.

As far as the county, LaRocca didn’t mince his words, “We have the most dominant team. Our six state qualifiers could be really good. Hernando is hands-down the second-best team. They’re better top-to-bottom than anyone else.

“I think Vinny (D’Alessandro), who transferred to Central, after two seasons with us, will help Coach Willie (Murphy) and the Bears.”

On the opportunity of a dual meet state championship, “We’re very competitive here,” shared LaRocca. “I think whichever team wins our dual meet regional, will win states. So, we’ve got a chance.“

The Class 2A, District 5 Tournament will be held at Belleview.

LaRocca predicts the Eagles to win followed by Inverness-Citrus edging out Belleview.

In a season of promise, LaRocca chose his words carefully to define success, “As long as we’re at the top of the podium in Kissimmee, that’s success. We have the pieces in place to contend for a dual meet and individual state titles. I think a top-three finish is not a stretch for this group.”

Leopards: 8 returning lettermen

For the first time in 12 winters, Hernando High, the county’s oldest mat program, hoisted its fifth-ever district championship in Class 1A, District 6.

The Leopards, who whisked away the regional runner-up trophy from the Class 1A, Region II Tournament missed duplicating 2015-16’s 25 wins, finishing 24-4 last winter.

HHS’ fabulous campaign also featured two tourney wins including McKeel Duals and the district title at Michael A. Imhoff Gymnasium.

The lone disappointment was the conclusion as none of six Purple and Gold state qualifiers returned home with a medal from Kissimmee as HHS finished in a disappointing tie for 30th, out of 85 teams in Osceola County.

The Leopards, which solved Springstead in back-to-back seasons in duals for the first time since 1980s, graduated eight grapplers, including seven starters.

Yovanny Rodriquez
Dakota Ellerbee

Five of the Leopards’ six All-Hernando County selections including Yovanny Rodriguez, Dakota Ellerbee, Codey Maniates, Harry Williams and Keegan O’Rourke are gone.

The lone returning All-County performer is senior Josh Hulse (44-12).

Fortunately, the Leopards return eight varsity lettermen, including seven starters: Hulse, Heaven Leigh Jackson (16-25), Samantha Gommier (4-11), Boston Tafelski (30-16), Bronson Tafelski (30-23), Qwenton Coney (15-22) and Fernando Valdez (33-20).

Both Hulse and Valdez, a sophomore, are returning Class 1A state qualifiers.

Josh Hulse
Fernando Valdez

Of the 26 newcomers to the team, freshman Josh Pritz, is a transfer from Citrus Park Christian, while Nick Cheverie hails from Central.

The youngest Pritz would be the third HHS state qualifier from 2017. He finished 1-2 at states for CPC as an eighth-grader.

David Pritz begins his sixth season on Friday at the Weeki Wachee Duals VI attempting to recoup 284 of last winter’s 464 individual wins (61 percent) while mustering 153 of the 226 pins (68 percent) that also did not return.

“I’m super optimistic about this team,” shared Pritz, who arrives 95-71 lifetime. “That’s based on the guys coming back and guys filling in.

David Pritz

“Out of the 14 weight classes, 12 have a decent amount of mat experience. It’s also great having a good group of guys to work with. I have no discipline issues,” expressed Pritz. “I’m very optimistic to see what I have, but it was tough to see last year’s seniors leave.”

Pritz indicated junior J. Lisk, who couldn’t crack the varsity lineup in fulltime fashion in the past, is expected to start this year.

Lisk has been the background, said Pritz, but he’s a very level-headed wrestler.

Rodney Owens, a first-year senior, is also expected to crack the varsity lineup for the first time in three seasons.

On HHS competing for a possible state title in dual meets, “We like dual meets. I think it’ll be exciting,” said Pritz.

After registering 49 dual meet wins over the past two winters, HHS will challenged competing at the Corey Hill and Ed Kilpatrick IBTs, Wolfpack Invite at Timber Creek and Clay Rotary Tournament before the 1A-6 Meet again at Hernando High.

In predicting the county scene, Pritz admitted, “We’ve beaten Springstead head-to-head the last two years. We’re not backing down this year. We want to be county champions. No one wants to be second-best. We’re going into that dual (Dec. 20 at HHS) with the same mindset we’ve had in the past.”

In 1A-6, “Our goal is to repeat,” emphasized Pritz, who knows HHS hasn’t turned that trick since when he competed in 2003-05 under Matt Smith and Bill Combs Sr. “I think Weeki Wachee wants to take it back, but we’re not gonna lay down.

“… A successful season for us is having the guys step up and wrestle well. We’re not gonna have a repeat of last year at states. We’re not going to go to states and not have guys get on the podium.”

WWHS: Replacing 70 percent of its wins

Weeki Wachee established a new county record for dual meet wins last winter behind a 29-19 won-lost mark.

But the record came with a heavy invoice.

The dual-meet friendly Hornets struggled in IBTs.

Under first-year skipper Dan Gigantelli, the US-19 mat men captured one of the 12 events they participated in: Hudson-Fivay Duals. WWHS did finish as 1A-6 runners-up and placed ninth out of 28 teams in regionals and tied for 67th out of 85 teams at states.

Derrick Martins

The Hornets graduated seven while nine others opted not to return to the fold.

Patrick Webb-Melton

The Hornets do return six lettermen, all starters, including: seniors Matt Bennett (6-9), Derrick Martins (34-18), Jason McKnight (7-7), Patrick Webb-Melton (36-17, 24 pins) and Shane Davidson (25-27), and junior Josh Coley (42-22, 29 pins).

Of the Hornets’ three state qualifiers from 2017, only Coley returns.

Coach Gigantelli opens the season at home this weekend attempting to recoup the loss of 275 of 392 individual wins (70 percent) and 150 of 224 pins (67 percent).

Sixteen fresh faces dot WWHS’ 2017-18 roster.

Dan Gigantelli

“We miss the experience that Hunter (Gibson) and David Kesicki brought to the team,” explained Coach Gigantelli, who formerly guided the fortunes at Mitchell before relocating to US-19 campus. “I think we’ve got a good, solid team coming back.

“I like this team’s work ethic. They’re overall very athletic and have good attitudes. This might be the hardest working team I’ve ever had.”

Gigantelli pointed to his team’s strength in the lineup going from 145 pounds and up. Conversely, due to graduation, the greatest concern, is 138 pounds and down.

On what the Hornets are emphasizing in practice, “We keep working on fundamentals day in and day out. it’s a younger squad, we can’t get too excited about our early success.”

As far as wrestlers to watch, Gigantelli believes Hornets fans should lock in on Cole Vedder, Justin Garvin, Luke Bianchi and James Fornier.

Bianchi relocated to Sunshine State from Michigan and was raised on wrestling.

Gigantelli passed on predicting the county scene, “It is what it is. I’m not really a part of it.”

On the other hand, he sees the 1A-6 Tournament as a two-horse race, “To me its Hernando and Weeki Wachee. We’re gonna be one of the most athletic teams out there. Pritz has a great team. They’re the defending champs. We’ve gotta beat them; that’s our goal.”

Sharks: Return 4 grapplers

Nature Coast Technical is breaking in its third coach in three season, Chance Phillips.

Phillips inherits the reigns left by Mike LaRocca. LaRocca’s 2016-17 squad finished 9-11 overall, placed fourth in 1A-6, 12th in the regionals and tied for 33rd at states in Kissimmee.

On his way out the door, LaRocca said the NCT program lacked the necessary commitment level.

Jordan Gibson

The Sharks graduated four seniors including 2017 Class 1A state placer Jordan Gibson finishing fourth at states.

Mike Weston

NCT does return nine lettermen including: senior James Aponte (16-28), juniors Cameron Corollo (1-11), Dajour Morgan (9-7), Corey Peterson (3-11), Logan Wellman (7-13) and Michael “Mike-Mike” Weston (35-15, 24 pins), sophomores Ashton Harding (20-12), Jaxson Morris (15-21) and Keegan Phillips (2-3), the coaches’ son.

The sturdy 6-foot-2, 220-pound Weston is the Sharks’ lone returning state qualifier.

The current NCT roster features 36 wrestlers including 21 freshmen.

Coach Phillips, who graduated from Shiloh High School in Georgia, was a two-time Georgia state qualifier.

He understands the Sharks will be attempting compensate for the loss of 111 of 219 wins last winter (51 percent) along with the loss of 71 of its 139 pins (51 percent).

“Right now we’ve got a handful of guys that haven’t reached their potential,” admitted Coach Phillips, whose oldest daughter Cayla graduated from HCA last year. “We’re trying to get these guys over the hump. We’ve got to retain the young guys. That will be the biggest factor going forward.”

Of the nine returnees, “They’re a little older, a little more experienced but they have to continue to learn,” pointed out Coach Phillips. “We don’t have a youth programs like the other county schools, so we’re spending as much time as possible on fundamentals.”

Central: Two state qualifiers

Central High finished 5-20 in 2016-17, placing seventh out of eight teams in districts, 20th out of 28 in regionals and tied for 67th out of 85 teams in states.

The Bears graduated three grapplers, another opted to transfer and two declined to return to the team.

On paper, the Ken Austin Parkway mat squad returns 12 mat men including: seniors Dennis Harmon, Christian Navaraez, Kevin Ramagli and Brannyn Washington; juniors Foster Hawthorne, Chris Murphy, Charles Parris and Justis Rager; and sophomores Zack Carmack, Connor Chilson, Anna Kilburn and Kaleb Morrison.

Eight are returning starters featuring: Chilson (3-18), Hawthorne (24-11, 15 pins), Kilburn (3-23), Murphy (8-9), Parris (4-10), Rager (2-14), Ramagli (7-18) and Washington (12-11).

One of the biggest additions is the transfer of Vinny D’Alessandro to Central.

Vinny D’Alessandro

D’Alessandro is a 2016 state qualifier, who did not compete last year at SHS.

D’Alessandro joins Hawthorne as the team’s two returning state qualifiers.

Head Coach Willie Murphy’s third team appeared poised to move up in the standings until a flurry of injuries.

Washington suffered an ACL injury late in football season and is out for the season.

Parris was injured prior to the Thanksgiving weekend and required surgery. He too is not expected back this winter.

As of press time, Kilburn had not been medically cleared to return to the mats meaning three returning Bears starters would not open the season at Weeki Wachee.

Despite the injuries, Murphy remains positive.

“We’re deeper in certain weight classes. We’ve got a little more experience and we have some new faces.”

The biggest positive indicated Murphy is having two state qualifiers in D’Alessandro and Hawthorne.

Foster Hawthorne

“Vinny brings in a new intensity and drive that we’d been lacking. He’s showing the other guys was it’s like to wrestle at that level., indicated Murphy. “He’s fit in perfectly in our (wrestling) room. He brings a certain level of leadership that I like.”

As far as Hawthorne, “He’s light years ahead from where he was last year,” added Murphy. “He’s a football guy, but wrestling is creeping into his veins.”

Murphy believes Morrison and Josh Turner could really help.

Willie Murphy

“Turner is an intense guy, but he is such a hard worker,” described Murphy. “Morrison is another football player, who is very strong. I think he could surprise some people.”

The team’s biggest strength, according to Murphy, is how hard they work. He says the guys push each other to pick up the tempo.

The biggest concern is the Bears are top heavy, noted Murphy. Meaning CHS is ultra thin in the lightweights.

On the county scene, Murphy expects Springstead to rule the roost again.

In 1A-6, Murphy says, “Pritz does a nice job to get those guys to compete every year. I think if we can fill out a lineup, we can go after it.”

On Murphy’s goals, “Success for us is having guys not just qualify for states but place.”

By the Numbers: Central Bears

                       Central Bears

Graduation losses: 3

Returning Lettermen: 9

Returning Starters: 5

Seniors: 6

Returning State Qualifiers: 2

By the Numbers: Hernando Leopards

      Hernando Leopards

Graduation losses: 8

Returning Lettermen: 8

Returning Starters: 7

Seniors: 3

Returning State Qualifiers: 2

By the Numbers: Nature Coast Technical Sharks

Nature Coast Technical Sharks

Graduation losses: 4

Returning Lettermen: 9

Returning Starters: 9

Seniors: 2

Returning State Qualifiers: 1

By the Numbers: Springstead Eagles

                     Springstead Eagles

Graduation losses: 3

Returning Lettermen: 11

Returning Starters: 9

Seniors: 8

Returning State Qualifiers: 6

 

By the Numbers: Weeki Wachee Hornets

             Weeki Wachee Hornets

Graduation losses: 7

Returning Lettermen: 6

Returning Starters: 6

Seniors: 4

Returning State Qualifiers: 1 

2016-17 FINAL HERNANDO COUNTY

WRESTLING HONOR ROLL STATS

– Compiled by TONY CASTRO

TOP 10

Codey Maniates                                             Photo by JOE DiCRISTOFALO
 

RK.

 

NAME

 

SCH

 

YR

 

W

 

L

 

PINS

1.

Maniates, Codey

HER

12

48*

9

20

2.

Rivera, Richie

SPG

12

46

4*

21

3.

Ellerbee, Dakota

HER

12

45

15

28

4.

Hulse, Josh

HER

11

44

12

15

5.

Williams, Travis

SPG

12

43

9

19

6.

Williams, Harry

HER

12

42

12

30*

7.

Kesicki, David

WW

12

42

21

19

8.

Coley, Josh

WW

10

42

22

29

9.

Gibson, Jordan

NCT

12

41

9

26

10.

Gurley, Joseph

WW

10

40

12

25

* Denotes Hernando County leader.

TOP 10 Winning Percentage

Richie Rivera                                                                                           Photo by TONY CASTRO
 

RK.

 

NAME

 

SCH

 

YR

 

W

 

L

 

.PCT

 

PINS

1.

Rivera, Richie$

SPG

12

46

4*

.920*

21

2.

Maniates, Codey

HER

12

48*

9

.842

20

3.

Williams, Travis

SPG

12

43

9

.827

19

4.

Gibson, Jordan

NCT

12

41

9

.820

26

5.

Morales, Chris

SPG

10

35

9

.795

24

6.

Hulse, Josh

HER

11

44

12

.786

15

7.

Williams, Harry

HER

12

42

12

.778

30*

8.

Gibson, Hunter

WW

12

38

11

.776

22

9.

Roche, Charles

SPG

11

33

10

.767

16

10.

Shenefield, Trenton

SPG

11

32

10

.762

14

* Denotes Hernando County leader.

$ Denotes state champion.

2017 HernandoSport.com

All-County Wrestling Team

– Compiled by TONY CASTRO

Richie Rivera                                                   Photo by JOE DiCRISTOFALO
 

WGT

 

NAME

 

SCH

 

YR

 

106

Tommy McCane

SPG

11

 

113

Richie Rivera

SPG

12

 

120

Josh Hulse

HER

11

 

126

Yovanny Rodriguez

HER

12

 

132

Dakota Ellerbee

HER

12

 

138

Chris Morales

SPG

10

 

145

Charles Roche

SPG

11

 

152

Codey Maniates

HER

12

 

160

Jordan Gibson

NCT

12

 

170

Travis Williams **

SPG

12

 

182

Harry Williams

HER

12

 

195

Trenton Shenefield

SPG

11

 

220

Michael Weston

NCT

10

 

285

Keegan ORourke

HER

12

Wrestler of the Year – Richie Rivera (Springstead)

Coach of the Year – Robert “Bob” Levija (Springstead)

** Denotes two-time All-County selection.

 

 

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